Teacher pensions up for review by education reform panel

Changes to teacher pensions could be up for consideration by Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission.

At a meeting Tuesday, Rep. Mike Dudgeon, a member of a subcommittee tasked with issuing recommendations about school funding, disclosed that his group will “look at” the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.

Dudgeon, a Republican from Johns Creek, said the funding subcommittee expects to have a presentation on the retirement system along with reports from experts about retirement systems in other states. He added that Georgia’s teacher pension system is among the best in the country.

“I’m not saying we’ll do anything,” he said. “We’re just going to look at it.”

Teachers are a loud and organized group. The last effort to alter pensions collapsed amid a political backlash earlier this year. Proponents argued that the state cannot afford to fund pensions long-term at the current rate.

The Reform Commission’s discussions about possible change to the teacher pay structure have also earned wrathful emails, causing some lawmakers on the commission to back away from the idea.

Currently, teachers are paid based on their level of education and experience, with pay rising as they climb the ladder of training and experience, or “T&E” as it is called.

At Tuesday’s meeting, members of the commission acknowledged the political sensitivities. They also promised that current teachers — the voting bloc to worry about — would be unaffected by any changes.

Recommendations about pensions and pay would only affect future hires, said Erin Hames, Deal’s education policy adviser and a liaison to the commission: “The important thing to say is that these changes, like the changes on T&E, would not impact current teachers.”

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